emoji 2There’s not a lot that’s more terrifying to me than Internet predators, and it’s hard to know how parents can protect their children from the all the sickos out there. A new ad campaign from French child advocacy group Innocence en Danger aims to increase awareness of the dangers lurking on every website and chatroom, and it’s pretty arresting.

The premise of the campaign is simple: it takes some Emojis and turns them into real, distorted human faces. The copy reads “Do you really know who’s talking with your kid on the Internet?”

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It’s one thing to supervise your kids in a park and flip out when a stranger comes up to them, but how much can you really do on the Internet? As someone who will one day make some spawn of my own, I can’t imagine unleashing my child into the horrifying swampland teeming with predators, Nigerian princes, and videos of untold violence that is the Internet. Internet predators are excellent at hiding in plain sight, especially considering that your kid might only know him or her by an innocuous, youthful screenname. Given how much time children spend on the computer for both school work and fun, it’s easy for predators to get in the necessary time to groom them, or manipulate them into a sexual situation. It’s never been easier to prey on children–they’re all right there, probably bored, tired, feeling misunderstood, and eager for a listening ear. It’s a quick jump from chatting online to meeting in a coffee shop. It’s utterly terrifying.

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These ads are a great wake up call for parents to engage in conversations with their kids about talking to strangers online, and to remind them that anyone can pretend to be a 12-year-old girl online, but could very well be an adult predator. I don’t know how to find the right way to monitor kids’ online activity without invading their privacy, but kids must be aware that talking to strangers is never, ever okay, because any life detail can be faked.

This makes me think of the show Catfish, the premise of which is that adult humans who have engaged in long term relationships with strangers online find out if they’re real or, more likely, if they’ve been “catfished.” This whole mystery is solved through the use of, I don’t know, Google, and it’s a pretty upsetting example of just how easy it is to con people into believing bullshit online. It’s clear to me that even adults need some education when it comes to safe Internet use, which is appalling.

These ads do a great service by taking something we find adorable and funny and flipping it into something insidious. Internet predators insinuate themselves into their preys’ lives by being likable, and the Emoji was an excellent symbol. I hope they have some efficacy and that people are as genuinely creeped out as I am.

Photos: Innocence en Danger